Heroines of Toni Morrison and Anita Desai: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

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Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,033 words

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[(essay date summer 1993) In the following essay, Parikh compares the treatment of female relationships in Toni Morrison's fiction with that in Desai's novels, emphasizing the alienation experienced by the characters in their respective cultures.]

What makes a writer memorable, wonderful teller of stories, passionately in love with her people, creating unforgettable heroines and heroes and making them breathe? The answer is Toni Morrison and her world peopled with young black girls, adolescent Sula and Nel, Pecola Breedlove and Milkman, alias Macon Dead Jr.

The overwhelming power of the writer as a teller of stories is wonderfully felt in all the novels of Morrison. What strikes one in Morrison's world is her depiction of relationships between women. No major writer has dealt with this theme. Here Morrison feels that:

Relationships between women were always written about as though they were subordinate to some other roles they're playing. This is not true of men.(Tate 1983:118)

Hence the hierarchy created by patriarchal society crumbles to a certain extent in Morrison. And women are at the centrestage.

This can also be said of the world of Anita Desai. In her major novels, she deals with, depicts and describes the world of heroines. They may be lonesome, sensitive, educated, fondled or motherless, or get paranoid in the insensitive world around them. But they interest, attract and haunt readers. Maya of Cry, the Peacock is haunted by the Albino's reading of her horoscope and prophesizing an early death of one of the partners. Monisha in Voices in the City is sensitive, appreciative of fine arts, falls prey to her monitoring in-laws. She is a private person, keeps a diary, and feels ill at ease at the in-laws' huge joint family mansion. Amla is a character who is totally different from her sister. She is a painter, an artist, and learns the survival techniques early like Claudia and Frieda, the MacTeer sisters in Morrison's The Bluest Eye. In Where Shall We Go This Summer?, Desai has portrayed a magic world of Manori Island, the charismatic personality of Sita, a Gandhian father, and her businessman husband, Raman. The cruelty all around her makes her almost desert the day-do-day world of reality; but she discovers that there no more exists the enchanting world of her childhood days on Manori Island. She does not want her child to be born in a chaotic, insensitive world, where new life will be jeopardized. Nanda Kaul is yet another character in Fire on the Mountain who suffers lifelong negligence at the hands of her Vice-Chancellor husband. Raka, Nanda Kaul's great granddaughter, is one of the finest creations of Desai. She is a recluse by nature; she is simply born that way. Here, in a very subtle manner, Desai comments on the bureaucrats who fail to nurture their wives and daughters in their race for power and position.

Morrison deals with themes of love, friendship, beauty, ugliness and death. Her heroines as well as heroes struggle to understand "aspects of the human...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100051026